Salmon is one of those scrumptious fish that you can cook outdoors in a variety of ways. We love to grill it, smoke it, and even turn it into salmon burgers on the grill. You really can’t go wrong with this delicious fish. But, if you haven’t smoked salmon before, you’re going to need to learn a few things before you get started.
The type of wood for smoking salmon is one of the most crucial aspects of getting amazing flavor and aroma without overpowering this delicate fish. Not all woods are equal, and selecting the proper one can make all the difference in the end product.
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In this post, we’ll go over the nuances of flavor that can be added to salmon through the wood you choose, and which ones you should avoid so you don’t overpower it.
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Hardwoods vs. Softwoods
There are two types of wood to take into account: hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwoods are from deciduous trees like oak, hickory, and maple, and softwoods are from evergreen species like pine, spruce, and fir. Hardwoods are often chosen for smoking salmon because they burn hotter and longer than softwoods, resulting in better-smoked fish.
Cedar is a common wood for smoking salmon, particularly in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Cedar has a distinct flavor that complements the flavor of salmon, and it also contains natural oils that serve to keep the fish wet during the smoking process.
Cedar is a softwood, yet it is one of the few softwoods that are appropriate for smoking due to its low resin concentration. To prevent the cedar from burning too quickly while smoking fish, soak it in water for at least an hour before use.
Alder is another common wood for smoking salmon, and it is frequently used in both the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Alder has a mellow, sweet flavor that pairs well with salmon.
It is a hardwood that burns at a lower temperature than other hardwoods, making it perfect for smoking fish. Alder smoke is also less dense than other hardwood smoke so it won’t overshadow the flavor of the fish.
Maple is a hardwood that is often used to smoke fish in the Northeastern United States. Maple has a mellow, sweet flavor that complements the taste of salmon. It also burns at a low temperature, making it perfect for smoking seafood. It won’t overshadow the flavor of the fish.
Apple is a hardwood that is typically used for smoking pig, but it also works well for smoking salmon. Apple has a delicious, fruity flavor that enhances the taste of salmon. It burns at a low temperature, making it perfect for smoking seafood. Apple smoke is also quite moderate in comparison to other hardwoods.
Cherry is a hardwood that is frequently used for smoking poultry, but it also works well for smoking salmon. Cherry has a sweet, fruity flavor that complements the taste of salmon. It burns at a low temperature, making it perfect for smoking seafood.
Woods to Avoid for Smoking Salmon
Some types of wood or wood pellets are not typically used for smoking salmon due to the harsh or unpleasant flavors they can impart.
Many softwoods aren’t the best to use because they contain high levels of resin and sap which can give the salmon an unpleasant taste. They also burn much hotter and faster than hardwoods, making it difficult to control the temperature of the smoker. That’s why cedar planks are soaked before using them.
Other woods to avoid are ones that would impart too much of a heavy taste or aroma, like hickory. When it comes to smoking fish, and salmon in particular, hickory might not be the best choice because it can be quite overpowering. The flavors from hickory-smoked wood can easily dominate the delicate, natural taste of the salmon.
That being said, personal preference plays a significant role. If you enjoy the strong, bold flavor that hickory imparts, you could definitely try using it for salmon. Some people enjoy mixing hickory with a milder wood, like apple or alder, to balance the flavors. But if you’re just starting out or prefer a more subtle smoke flavor in your salmon, milder woods like alder, cherry, or apple would be a safer bet.
When it comes to smoked salmon, the type of wood you choose can have a major impact on the finished result. While there are many various woods that can be used to smoke salmon, cedar, alder, maple, apple, and cherry are some of the greatest options. Each of these woods has a distinct flavor character that complements the taste of salmon without overpowering it.